A Quick Tour of the SF Police Department Budget
I’m no one, but I happen to have a lot of experience reading San Francisco government budgets, so I thought it might be useful to write down a basic breakdown of the current San Francisco Police Department budget. All mistakes are my own. FYI, if you’re not already tuning in, the Police Commission meets every Wednesday at 5:30 pm (until very, very late). I, and many others, live tweet the meetings we can attend at #sfpolicecommission, but Wealth and Disparities in the Black Community is the best source for all #defundthepolice efforts in San Francisco. They're holding a rally this Friday at 11 am at City Hall.
The Big Picture
- There are two parts to the police department’s budget: the operating budget and the capital budget.
- The operating budget last year was roughly 10% of the City’s overall general fund. Here is the proposed budget for the next two years (the City uses a two-year budgeting system).
- The proposed operating budget calls for an increase from $692,322,316 to $738,548,384 over for the next two years.
- The City's capital budget also operates on a two-year cycle, and calls for $3.6M for the SFPD, which is less than 1% of the overall $452 million five year capital budget. However, while this looks good on the surface, keep in mind that most other agencies rely heavily on the capital budget for basic maintenance and materials, whereas the SFPD has a long history of having those items readily funded through the City’s operating budget—an unjust anomaly.
- The SFPD budget has a long tail and set of operating assumptions that financially reverberate throughout the entire city budget:
- San Francisco also funds a whole separate department, the Department of Police Accountability, to manage complaints against the SFPD (you know why). The DPA’s proposed budget is only $11m, roughly 15% of the SFPD’s budget.
- The arrest rates of the SFPD directly translate into the budget request from the San Francisco Sheriff’s Department, Public Defender’s Office and many others. Aka, the cost of putting people into the system resonates throughout the city’s budget, directly and indirectly, just as criminalizing homeless people instead of housing people ultimately costs the City more money (and its soul, need I add).
- A number of agencies contract with the SFPD for enforcement officers, the largest of which are the Airport Authority ($102K) and the MTA ($4.4M proposed for MUNI fare enforcement, on $1-2 dollar fares).
- There is a notable lack of metrics and justification for the main budgetary meat of the agency: patrol officers. Why do we deploy them where they are? How effective are they? This 2018 report by the SF Budget and Legislative Analyst looked purely at the most basic of performance data for the SFPD, not even examining racism and actual crime fighting, and found that the agency wasn't doing even the easiest type of analysis and deployment of its patrol officers. From page i of the report:
The Police Department does not have a performance target for the percentage of time that patrol officers in each district spend responding to calls for service. As a result, the Department has no basis for evaluating whether additional staff is necessary to meet performance targets or whether the correct numbers of staff are allocated to the ten Police districts.
- This complete lack of basic accountability is unusual for such a large agency. For example, any infrastructure or fleet management project that the MTA wants to move forward, by contrast, has to have a detailed project or program budget, and is approved on a case-by-case basis at their board meetings. In those proposals, the MTA--hardly a perfect agency, but the bar is low here--measures things down to the last speed hump and generally uses some level of metrics to explain the use of each piece of infrastructure (e.g., cut speeding in half in the given project area). Even in a more programmatic-based, comparable agency, like the Department of Public, the level of detail and explanation for each program is far more detailed in the proposed budget.
Where Is The Money Going?
- Patrol officers. We spend the vast majority of the budget on personnel, most of which is street patrol personnel. There is an administrative layer to the personnel costs, but the bulk is cops on duty. See page 73 for a detailed breakdown of the organization chart and number of people at each position. Apparently we have more police per capita than most other similar cities. Why?
- Toys and facilities. The incredible amount of money spent on officers makes the other budgetary numbers seem small, but they are actually still a signifiant amount of money when you consider what else they could be spent on. See below.
- Move to new headquarters in Mission Bay. The SFPD has been moving into a $243 million, six-story HQ in Mission Bay. To put that in context, Redding Elementary finally got $12.5 million a few years ago to renovate its decaying school building. With the same money spent on the SFPD HQ, we could have modernized 19 schools.
Where to Cut?
- Easy, and should be done immediately
- Night Vision Goggles and other toys. Seriously. On page 47 of the budget proposal, the SFPD asks for 20 $13K night vision devices. For the same amount of money, we can purchase roughly 900 Chromebooks for SFUSD students and teachers who can't afford computers in their homes. Or give rent subsidies to families in critical need.
- Vehicle fleet upgrades and overall size. Pages 48-70 of the budget document is solely line items requesting roughly $120K-150K+/line for upgrading and purchasing new vehicles for the SFPD. It's about 175 vehicles total--and exactly the amount of money that could and should be put towards 175 teachers and social support staff in schools instead. After all, why in the world does the SFPD need constantly fancier and bigger cars? They're prohibited from engaging in car chases, fancier vehicles are clearly not helping their response time to any crimes, they divide the so-called community officers from the people they're supposed to get to know and generally sucks up incredible amount of resources (plus, climate crises, etc). In fact, the only potential use for these larger and larger vehicles seems to be to intimidate and hurt protestors. In summary, police cars should be about the lowest possible priority on the City's agenda right now.
- Crash tracking software. On page 75, the SFPD is requesting $875K for a collisions reporting and tracking system. This figure is about half of a small SFUSD school's annual operating budget, fyi. And yes, while in theory it sounds like a good thing for the police to track crashes, the problem is that what they're putting into the system is garbage. So what's the point? Here's just one example of the routine bias that the SFPD uses in recording crashes. Trash in, trash out, no matter what system the officers are using. If the streets are unsafe, then the MTA needs to fix them with design changes or restrictions; inherently racist enforcement should never be part of any Vision Zero effort.
- Repaving parking lots of stations. On page 77, the SFPD requests $400K for repaving police station parking lots. It's funny how my kid used to complain on the daily about the crappy pavement at his SFUSD yard that skins his knees back when school was in person, with little hope of fixing it in site short of a major taxpayer bond. But we don't blink at paving a parking lot for the SFPD out of the general fund.
- Interior and exterior upgrades to stations. Also on page 77, the SFUSD requests $4.6M for "Building Exterior and Interior Space Reconfiguration And Upgrades." The annual SFUSD budget for my kid's large elementary school is roughly $3.2M, and we're worried about potentially losing the vice principal who handles the bulk of the IEP management if future budget cuts come through. So, I don't know about you, but I truly do not think the beauty and feng shui of the police stations are a priority compared to making sure kids with special education needs get the services they need.
- MTA contract. This is on the MTA, which meets on Tuesday afternoons, btw. They're proposing to use $4.4M to pay cops to kick people who can't afford MUNI fare off the buses and trains seems incredibly backward. It's racist (I've personally witnessed the routine harassment of Black and brown passengers by these officers) and literally costs more than just letting people who don't have the money ride for free. Further, with real concerns about COVID-19 in play, surely this program just puts more people in unnecessary danger.
- Airport contract. This is on the Airport Authority, but I have to imagine that the dramatic reduction in flying due to COVID-19 means that we don't need so many police at the airport. $102M to stand around monitoring a largely empty airport?
- Mission Bay contract. Similarly, the MTA is proposing spending approximately $9M on a program to patrol around a giant stadium, a stadium that isn't currently allowed to be used thanks to the virus.
- Etc. There's plenty more stuff in there. The above are highlights.
- The real meat of the problem
- Patrol officers. People much more knowledgeable than me have been saying this for years, but making the cuts above still pales in comparison to reducing the number of cops with guns out doing work that has nothing to do with their training. See this internal SFPD report for the incredible mismatch. Yes, the Police Officers Association will do everything in their power to stop this change, but either we reduce the number of officers, or nothing has fundamentally changed.
- Income Streams. The SFPD is currently in charge of handling a wide variety of permits and fines. You can see the bizarre and random mix of citation revenue on pages 34 and 35. It's everything from bathhouses to pedicab drivers. To me this reads as a field guide to work that agency can pass along to better trained folks in other departments.
- It was infuriating to read a budget where an agency feels free to always ask for more--because they have never heard no. Before all the recent protests, the Mayor asked for a 10% across the board cut to all agencies, and the SFPD still came back with a request for more money than ever. Here is the agency's one and only justification.
- Meanwhile, I’m on my kids' school local School Site Council, where the conversation is what essential staff and programs can we stand to cut when the state budget cuts rain down like fire in the next year--an amount of money less than the SFPD's materials and supply budget, btw. (Yes, I recognize SFUSD is a separate governance structure and funding pot, but should it be?)